For Immediate Release
Role Of Religion In Presidential Campaign Heads 2008 'Top Ten' List Of Church-State Stories
From Radioactive Clergy To Media Inquisitions, Religion Was A Hot Topic In This Year's Race For The White House, Say Editors Of Church & State Magazine
WASHINGTON - The role of religion in the presidential campaign tops the 2008 "Top
Ten" list of top church-state stories, according to the editors of Church & State.
The monthly magazine, published by Americans United for Separation
of Church and State, is the nation's only news periodical devoted
exclusively to the intersection of religion and government.
Said Church & State publisher Barry W. Lynn, "It was a
wild and crazy year. To tell you the truth, I'm glad it's coming to a
close. I'm hopeful 2009 will be a lot better."
After studying the past 12 months of news, the editors selected the
following 10 stories as the most important and most interesting
church-state developments for the year.
1. The Role of Religion in the Presidential Campaign:
Not since 1960 when John F. Kennedy the first Roman Catholic president
was elected, has religion played such a large role in a presidential
campaign. News media representatives grilled candidates on what sins
they had committed and what their favorite Bible verses were. Barack
Obama fought false rumors that he is secretly a Muslim, and Mitt
Romney's Mormonism became a controversial topic. Candidates were held
accountable for the incendiary comments of their pastors and their
clergy supporters, such as the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and TV preacher
John Hagee. Many observers thought the whole thing was an unholy mess,
especially in a nation that separates religion and government.
2. The Resurgence of the Religious Right: While
pundits and progressives have proclaimed the demise of the Religious
Right, the fundamentalist political movement remained extraordinarily
powerful. Republican John McCain found it necessary to name evangelical
Sarah Palin as his running mate to mollify the GOP's restive religious
base, and Religious Right forces rammed through bans on same-sex
marriage in California, Florida and Arizona. Moderate evangelical
Richard Cizik was forced out as government affairs representative at
the National Association of Evangelicals after coming under fire from
Religious Right forces.
3. The Battle Over Gay Marriage: Bans on same-sex
marriage were approved in California, Florida and Arizona with
conservative religious forces leading the drive. California's approval
of Proposition 8, with massive funding from members of the Church of
Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was particularly contentious. The
Mormons, joined by the Roman Catholic hierarchy and evangelical
Protestant congregations, were successful in passing a constitutional
amendment that takes away the right of same-sex couples to marry and
reflects church doctrine in civil law. The issue now moves back to the
state Supreme Court.
4. The Ascendancy of Rick Warren: Once known
primarily as a mega-church pastor and best-selling author (The Purpose
Driven Life), the Rev. Rick Warren has rapidly moved into position as
the nation's most prominent preacher, despite right-wing views on
reproductive freedom, gay rights and church-state separation. Warren, a
Southern Baptist who heads Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., is
viewed by progressives as Jerry Falwell in a Hawaiian shirt with an ace
PR team. After hosting a presidential debate stacked toward John McCain
and being asked to give the invocation at Barack Obama's inauguration,
many think Warren seems destined to be the new Billy Graham.
5. Religious Right Influence at Justice Department:
Religious Right influence at the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) was
exposed this year. According to an internal DOJ investigation reported
in the media in July, senior aides in the department used religious and
political criteria to hire staff members for non-political positions.
Monica Goodling, a top adviser to the attorney general, checked to see
if job applicants were "pro-God in public life" and held right-wing
views on abortion, homosexuality and other issues. (Goodling is a
graduate of TV preacher Pat Robertson's Regent University.) DOJ also
posted a legally dubious memorandum this year insisting that the
federal government may give grants to "faith-based" social service
agencies that discriminate in hiring, even if Congress has explicitly
banned such bias.
6. Battles Over Creationism in Public Schools: New
battles have erupted over the teaching of evolution in public schools.
Blocked by the courts from teaching fundamentalist religious concepts
directly in biology classes, Religious Right forces are trying a
backdoor strategy. They are demanding that schools teach the "strengths
and weaknesses" of evolution, a euphemism for creationist ideas. Over
the heated objections of educators, scientists and civil liberties
activists, the Louisiana legislature approved an "academic freedom" law
encouraging such instruction in the state's schools. Now the Texas
State Board of Education is debating a similar proposal as part of its
10-year review of science standards.
7. Church Politicking Plot: The Religious Right's
dream of building a fundamentalist church-based political machine took
a big step forward in 2008 when more than 30 pastors used their pulpits
to endorse Republican political candidates. They acted at the behest of
the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), a wealthy Religious Right legal outfit
that wants to challenge the federal tax law ban on partisan politicking
by tax-exempt groups. The ADF, which was founded by TV preachers and
other religious broadcasters, hopes the Internal Revenue Service will
revoke participating churches' tax exemptions leading to a court
8. Defeat of Jeb Bush Referenda: Florida Gov. Jeb
Bush saw his school voucher subsidies for religious and other private
schools overturned by the state Supreme Court in 2006. Undeterred, the
now former governor's allies on an obscure tax commission engineered
two measures onto the November 2008 ballot that would have repealed the
state constitution's ban on public funding of religion as well as
diluted its provision for a strong system of public schools. To Bush's
dismay, the state Supreme Court on Sept. 3 struck the referenda from
the ballot, derailing the scheme.
9. Blocking of ‘Christian' License Plate: The South
Carolina legislature unanimously approved a special "Christian" license
plate featuring a bright yellow cross, a stained-glass church window
and the words "I Believe." Backed by Americans United for Separation of
Church and State, four local clergy and two minority faith groups
challenged the government favoritism toward one faith. On Dec. 11, a
federal district court blocked issuance of the plates. The judge's
action may forestall similar sectarian plates under consideration in
10. The Christmas Wars: It has become an annual
holiday tradition Religious Right groups and their allies in the
right-wing media launch a yearly crusade to stop the alleged
secularization of Christmas and to pressure government to include
Christian symbols in the holiday mix. They rail against stores' use of
the term "Happy Holidays" and insist that advertisements say "Merry
Christmas" instead. This year, much of the attention focused on a
Washington State battle where an atheist Winter Solstice sign was
positioned near a Christian Nativity scene in the state capital. Fox
News pundit Bill O'Reilly and an array of Religious Right scolds
lambasted Gov. Christine Gregoire for allowing the anti-religious
sentiment. Ironically, credit for the atheist display actually should
go to the Alliance Defense Fund, a Religious Right legal group that
sued Gregoire last year, insisting that the Capitol is an open forum
where a Nativity scene (and all other forms of speech) must be allowed.
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Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.